Wit, Verse and Wisdom in Mexican American Studies

The Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition is overseeing the preparation of critiques of a textbook entitled Mexican American Heritage to dissuade the Texas State Board of Education from adopting it for use in our public schools. Aside from pointing out the numerous factual errors, polemical tone and the recurring offensive statements, we accuse the authors of an obvious lack of familiarity with the vast Mexican American Studies literature published during the last forty years.

To address this issue, we wish to initiate an electronic counter-story to help shift the paradigm on how we are seen and described. We're shifting the paradigm on how Mexican-Americans are seen and described. We wish to show the wit, verse and wisdom in Mexican American Studies to underscore the dismissal of Mexican history and challenge the flawed and stereotypical depictions in the proposed textbook.

Simply put, we seek to demonstrate the wealth of rich and important information a textbook on Mexican Americans should include. We also want to give other like-minded persons an opportunity to join our fight over the production and dissemination of our collective knowledge.

Do you have ideas for submissions? Please email Val Benavidez with any suggestions. Emilio Zamora, editor of the series, will fact check the entries and approve them for our series at the REST site. If you have questions, write to Emilio at E.zamora@austin.utexas.edu.

How should I select excerpts or passages?
Consult a book, article, speech or archival record and select a passage that you find interesting, instructive, insightful, beautiful and/or useful for teaching Mexican American Studies in high school, college and university classes. Also, please include a copy of an image associated with the author, book cover or event. If you are an author, we encourage you to submit parts of your publication(s) or other forms of creative work.

What criteria should I observe?
The passages should be brief—no longer than 20 lines of typescript—and should include their source. You may wish to include a very brief introductory statement—from one to three sentences—in which you explain why the passage is important for an understanding of Mexicans in the United States. We prefer quotes but will entertain other forms of submissions like recollections of historical experiences and art work. We will also accept multiple passages from the same source. For instance, someone may wish to submit another quote from the life of Cesar Chavez (see below).

Have you signed the petition yet? Add your name at MASforTexas.org.

Selected excerpts:

 

Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

The indomitable Cesar Chavez, the labor organizer who led a farm worker movement beginning in the late 1960s that inspired generations of Mexicans in the United States to join in the cause for equal rights and dignity, often expressed hope in the inevitability change. The following statement comes from a speech in which he asked for public support for a strike and boycott against California grape growers.

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.

— Cesar Chavez, Address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, November 9, 1984.

 

José de la Luz Sáenz (1888-1953)

Sáenz, the author of a WWI diary and a co-founder of the League of United Latin American Citizens, wrote the following in his diary, on June 6, 1917 as he was being transported to join the American Expeditionary Forces in France:

As the sun was setting we passed by Dittlinger, a community where many Mexicans worked and where I taught their children for one year. For me that farming area is another battleground. I fought battles there until I convinced county officials to pay the teacher for the schooling of our children. Those were the triumphs that I sought in civilian life, to open the school doors for the workers’ children. Now that I wear the uniform of a warrior I have the hope of winning other battles that will bring justice for our people, one of many groupings that make up the suffering humanity that reclaims the sacrifice of their sound-minded and free men. It was exactly here, in this farming community, where it occurred to me to pick up a rifle. I was driven by the mistreatment that our people face in these parts where the Teutonic and German races predominate. They are ungrateful, they deny us equality as a people, and they forget the thousand and one guarantees given their ancestors when they came to colonize these lands. Who brought them and what were the advantages and privileges extended to those colonists? The history is there; it does not lie.

— Emilio Zamora, Ed., Trans., The World War I Diary of José de la Luz Sáenz (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014).

 

Gloria Anzaldua, 1942-2004

Our intellectual history can never be complete without the incomparable Gloria Anzaldúa. In this excerpt, she calls on women—primarily Mexican, mestiza women—to give public, generative expression to their inner guiding truths.

Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice on the paper.

— Ana Louise Keating, Ed., The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 34.

 

Angela Valenzuela

Angela Valenzuela’s most recent book examines the knowledge, skills and predispositions required for higher education institutions to create curricula for educating Latino/a children, children of color, and language-minority youth. The text illuminates why growing our own teachers makes sense as an approach for not only addressing the achievement gap, but for also enhancing the well-being of our communities as a whole.

To carry on this great task of educating our youth, we need the wisdom of our elders. We need them to help us recover and apprehend this ancestral memory of their powerful, enduring presence, as well as their “whisper[ed] words of warning,” that issue from the inner-most depths of our being. These are the intangibles of the unconscious—that unshakeable desire, unspoken calling, and deep yearning for social justice to make things right—that inhabit our “underground” in the almost inaccessible, deeply rooted structures of historican continuing trauma, sacrifice, and suffering. Despite El Árbol’s, heavy “bark-lidded eyes, tired from too much wisdom," our psyches and souls bear a heavy burden and responsibility, even if largely unbeknownst to ourselves at a conscious, every day, level.

— Valenzuela, A. Growing Critically Conscious Teachers: A Social Justice Curriculum for Educators of Latino/a Youth (Teachers College Press, 2016): The quoted passages are from Carmen Tafolla, “Our Abuelos, The Trees,” In This River Here; Poems of San Antonio (San Antonio: Wings Press, 2014).

 

Abelardo Delgado (1930-2004)

Delgado, one of the most popular Mexican American poets of the 1970s and 1980s, raised his angry voice against society for preventing Mexican youth from realizing their potential and for squandering the opportunity to see and welcome their worth. In the process, he captures a popular Mexican lament of arrested development and denies “america” its upper case “A,” no doubt as a way to say that the country has erred in not yet living up to its egalitarian ideals.

stupid america

stupid america, see that
chicano
with a big knife
on his steady hand
he doesn’t want to knife you
he wants to sit on a bench
and carve christfigures
but you won’t let him.
stupid america, hear that
chicano
shouting curses on the street
he is a poet
without paper and pencil
and since he cannot write
he will explode.
stupid america, remember
that chicano
flunking math and english
he is the picasso
of your western states
but he will die
with one thousand
masterpieces
hanging only from his mind.

— Abelardo Delgado, Xicano: 25 Pieces of a Xicano Mind (Denver: Barrio Publications, 1969).

 

Martha P. Cotera (1938- )

Every time I start to write something really optimistic about Hispanas, especially for our own readers, my pen is paralyzed by reality: spectres of teenage girls pregnant, with their lives and leadership potential severed; flocks of master’s degree and Ph.D. women in constant flight, without roots because they can’t even get the mediocre jobs others discard; lonely, accomplished women who would be first-rate companions to our men, if only they believed that men could deal with the sublimity of the true history of the woman in Hispanic culture: el clamor de la mujer hispana, “major sola que mal acompañada” [the outcry of the Hispnanic woman, “better off alone than with bad company”].

— Cotera, “La Nueva Hispana e Hispanidad, The New Hispanic Woman and Hispanicity,” in Chicana Feminist Thought; The Basic Historical Writings, Edited by Alma M. García (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 67. Also appeared in La Luz, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct.-Nov., 1979).

 

María Cristina Morales and Cynthia Bejarano

María Cristina Morales and Cynthia Bejarano, draw on transnational and postcolonial feminism, to underscore the importance of structural sexual and gendered violence in the still dismissed history of violence against Mexicans, especially in the border cities of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.

History is not just what is remembered but also what is consciously erased from memory, and those who seemingly engage in erasure are those with the most power and wealth who desecrate the created sacred space of historical and public memory.

— María Cristina Morales and Cynthia Bejarano “Border Sexual Conquest: A Framework for Gendered and Racial Sexual violence.” In Globalization and America: Race, Human Rights, and Inequality, Edited by Angela Hattery, David Embrick, and Earl Smith, 181–198. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), pp. 181-198.